Memorial Day: From loss comes strength to lead Soldiers
In January 2006, two young Soldiers were killed eight days and less than 50 miles apart while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Fourteen years later, their stories came together by way of two 58th Transportation Battalion first sergeants.
A lunchtime phone call last year between Company C 1st Sgt. Kevin Dudkiewicz and Company A 1st Sgt. Alec Glanville, uncovered a shared story of loss neither expected.
When Dudkiewicz told Glanville, then a senior drill sergeant under Dudkiewicz, that his brother had been killed during OIF in 2006, Glanville revealed his brother was also killed in Iraq the same year.
Both first sergeants were in theater at the time of their brothers’ deaths.
As they compared stories, the commonalities were almost unbelievable, and today, both first sergeants use their experience with loss to lead Soldiers who come to Fort Leonard Wood to train.
Spc. Michael Edwards
Glanville’s older brother, 26-year-old Spc. Michael Edwards, a helicopter crew chief with the Alaska National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, was on his first deployment when the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter he was riding in went down near Tal Afar, Iraq, on Jan. 7, 2006, killing him, seven fellow Soldiers and two civilians.
Originally from Antigua and Barbuda, Edwards immigrated to the United States as a child and grew up with Glanville in New York City.
Glanville described his brother as a devoted father, husband and brother who was a popular, well-liked guy with a sharp fashion sense, love of cars and natural leadership abilities.
“Everyone liked him,” he said. “He was the ring-leader and hardly ever a follower. As an older brother, same deal. Everything he did, I wanted to do.”
Edwards, known as Mikey, initially enlisted in 1997 to find some direction after high school. He completed Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and served for several years before moving to Reserve status in 2001 and then joining the Alaska Army National Guard in 2003.
Glanville was in Baghdad, Iraq, with the 11th Armored Calvary Regiment when Edwards died. Deployments and different duty stations had kept the brothers apart for the few years leading to Edwards’ death, but the two Soldiers had planned to meet in Baghdad to finish the naturalization process together. They never got the chance.
“He had another mission and he couldn’t make it,” Glanville said. “So, we didn’t get to see each other and the very next month his helicopter went down.”
Glanville was about a week from returning home when he found out Edwards had been killed a few days prior.
“When my other brother said to me, ‘Mikey’s dead,’ I just collapsed,” Glanville said. “I bawled — I bawled harder than I ever had before or since.”
He said a chaplain picked him up off the ground like a child and held him.
“I cried for I don’t know how long,” Glanville recalled. “The chaplain just held me there. He didn’t say anything, I just cried. And, although I cried for Mikey, he wasn’t alone. It was a full bird — it was full of passengers. I am not overly emotional, I don’t cry very much and although I cried hard then, I don’t think I cried enough.”
Glanville was taken to the tactical operations center where he was given a short-lived moment of hope.
“The battle captain yelled ‘no Michael Glanville KIA,’ and I said, ‘His name is Michael Edwards,’” Glanville said. “He just looked at the ground as he put the phone down, and I went back to bawling. Most people assume if I say, ‘my brother,’ we have the same last name. Where I’m from, you’re a brother or a sister, there is no half. It certainly didn’t hurt half as much.”
Glanville was invited to stay in theater and escort his brother’s body home after the crash investigation was completed. Not knowing how long that would take, he chose to go home to his family.
“I pictured in my head, ‘What if I died today, too?’” he said. “How screwed up would that be for them?”
Glanville said the Army got him home within 48 hours. So fast, in fact, the Iraqi mud on his boots was still wet when he walked into his mother’s Pennsylvania home.
The casualty assistance officer made it his mission to make sure Glanville had an appropriate uniform to wear to the funeral because his service uniform was at Fort Irwin, California, where he had deployed from. The CAO then accompanied the family to Antigua and Barbuda to ensure Edwards received the funeral he deserved.
“The CAO was right there to make sure nothing went wrong,” Glanville said. “When all was said and done, like a professional, he closed up and went home. Even after, he checked in on my mom here and there.”
Edwards was posthumously awarded U.S. citizenship shortly following his funeral.
“It broke our mother’s heart because we were on our way to do it in Baghdad and it didn’t happen,” Glanville said. “It took him dying to become a citizen.”
The first two years after Edward’s death were the hardest, but with his family’s support, Glanville said he was able to move forward and continue his success.
“I’ve re-enlisted and deployed twice since then,” he said. “(His death) has not deterred me at all. If anything, it gives me strength to continue to serve. So, leaving the Army was never a consideration.”
Spc. Kasper Dudkiewicz
On Jan. 15, Dudkiewicz’s younger brother, 22-year-old Military Police Spc. Kasper Dudkiewicz, assigned to the 511th Military Police Company, 91st Military Police Battalion, 10th Mountain Division, was killed in Mosul, Iraq, when the Humvee he was in collided with an Iraqi civilian vehicle.
Kasper was the third of six sons and one of three to serve in the Army. Born and raised in Guam, he followed his older brothers’ footsteps and joined after high school. He completed One Station Unit Training here in 2003, and is memorialized on a bench and stone paver at the Military Police Memorial Grove.
According to Dudkiewicz, Kasper loved sports and was active in school activities in high school.
He was also a brave and motivated Soldier.
“He wasn’t scared of anything,” Dudkiewicz said. “He went full force into what he was doing and nothing really phased him.”
Like Glanville, Dudkiewicz was on his second deployment to Iraq when his brother died.
Prior to that deployment, Dudkiewicz and his brother hadn’t seen each other since 2003, but the two were so close in physical proximity in Iraq they would sometimes link up when the timing was right.
Part of Kasper’s mission as an MP was visiting Iraqi police checkpoints and stations to provide training and guidance to their police force. He was on one of those missions when he was killed. Dudkiewicz had just returned from his own mission when he was met by his platoon sergeant and squad leader. They took him to see his battalion sergeant major and first sergeant — with them was a chaplain.
“They told me, ‘Your brother was killed today,’” he said. “They didn’t realize I had two brothers who were serving in the Army, so I had to ask which one.”
They confirmed it was Kasper who had lost his life.
“I couldn’t believe it. There was no way. Just a couple weeks prior we were talking to each other,” he said.
Like Glanville, Dudkiewicz said the CAOs assigned to his family made sure everything was taken care of from start to finish.
“They did an amazing job. It was great to see what the Army has in place to honor the Soldier and family members,” he said.
After burying his brother in Guam, Dudkiewicz immediately went back to Iraq.
“I understood what the mission was, and I still had Soldiers to lead,” he said. “One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was tell my mother I was going back to the same exact spot where she just lost her other son. The look in her eyes and worry in her voice said a lot.”
He thought about leaving the Army when his contract was up, but because of how they responded and supported him and his family during that time, he chose to continue serving.
He has deployed to Afghanistan three times since then. During one of those tours, he was a mortuary affairs non-commissioned officer, which gave him the opportunity to see what happens on the Army side when a Soldier dies.
“I’ve seen how we handle Soldiers from the moment of combat, to when they get to the family and then to their final resting place,” he said. “Whether it is the unit, the battle buddies or the families, somebody is always going to be affected by the death of a Soldier.”
Legacies through leadership
Glanville and Dudkiewicz have each found their own ways to keep their brothers alive through the leadership of Soldiers in training.
When new Soldiers are ready to quit, get homesick or lose motivation, Glanville will sometimes share his brother’s story to put things in perspective.
“Quitting is not what I like to see,” Glanville said. “When they want to quit, Mikey pops into my head. This man sacrificed his life — I’m asking them to make it six weeks.”
Glanville said he sees Edwards in new Soldiers and the drill sergeants shaping them. To him, they all represent his brother.
“There’s never a moment I’m not seeing Mikey, and I’m happy to have his memory fresh in my mind,” he said.
Something that stood out to Dudkiewicz after his brother died was the importance of making sure emergency documentation and paperwork is kept up to date and accurate, just in case something happens.
“I tell my Soldiers to get their financial and personal records in order and keep them updated,” he said. “Talking about death and what comes with it is a hard conversation to have but communication and preparation is key. During a funeral, after a death, is not the time to have those discussions.”
Both first sergeants say they believe their brothers would have done it all the same had they known how their story would end, and that telling their story is what keeps their memories alive.
Dudkiewicz believes there are likely more stories like his and Glanville’s but it takes Soldiers talking to each other to bring them to the surface.
“I’m sure there’s many more, but it takes conversations like we had to really open it up,” he said. “I don’t think people walk around saying ‘someone died,’ because that’s not a common thing to just talk about, but sometimes things come out — and the story is shared.”